Left, Arthur Walden's team of Chinooks in North Conway. (Courtesy photo) Right, Chinook and team at Wonalancet. (Courtesy Perry Greene Kennels)
Celebration of 100th anniversary of Chinook’s birth planned in January
By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
(Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series on Chinooks in honor of the breed's 100th anniversary.)
TAMWORTH — A celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Chinook, who at one time was the most famous dog in the world, will be held Jan. 13-15 at Camp Cody in Freedom.
Chinook, who was the foundation dog of one of the world's rarest breeds, was born on Jan. 17, 1917
at the 1,300-acre Wonalancet Farm and Inn owned by Arthur Walden and his wife, Kate. And like Walden, he would come to occupy an important part in the history of sled dogs, racing and exploration.
Chinook dog owner Bob Cottrell of Freedom, director of the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room and a past director of the Remick Country Doctor Museum in Tamworth, says that the event is being organized by the Chinook Owners Association and is expected to draw Chinooks and their owners from all over the Northeast for a variety of outdoors activities and programs on the history of the Chinooks, who are the state dog of New Hampshire.
Cottrell delivers lectures around the state for the New Hampshire Humanities Council on Chinook history and says that Walden played a major role in sled dog racing history by helping to organize the New England Sled Dog Club in 1924 and in bringing the oldest continuing sled dog race in the country to Tamworth that same year. The event, hosted by the Tamworth Outing Club, will be held this winter on Lake Chocorua on the weekend of Feb. 4-5, the same weekend as the Remick Country Doctor Museum's annual winter carnival.
Cottrell says that he and his wife, Debra, have owned their Chinook, Tug, who is registered as Mountain Laurel Tamworth Tugger, since they acquired him as a puppy in 2005.
Cottrell says that Tug now weighs about 90 pounds, which is very close to the weight of Chinook in his prime. In fact he is from the direct purebred line of Chinook's DNA and was obtained by the Cottrells with the help of Rick Skoglund of Perry Greene Kennels of Waldoboro, Maine, who has worked to preserve the breed and Chinook's original bloodline.
Skoglund wrote a history of the breed in which he says that in 1896, Walden, the 24-year-old son of a Boston minister, left Wonalancet, and his job as farm manager of Katherine (Kate) Sleeper's Wonalancet Farm, and headed to the gold fields of Alaska.
Skoglund writes "Driven by his sense of adventure, he took every job that came his way: prospector, logger, stevedore, river pilot; and the job that he was most taken with, "dog punching" (hauling freight by dogsled). Walden returned to Wonalancet six years later, and in December of 1902, he and Kate Sleeper married. Walden had dog sledding in his blood, but quality sled dogs were not available in New England, so he brought a variety of dogs to Wonalancet and began breeding for dogs that possessed his ideal combination of strength, endurance, speed and good nature.
"He desired a friendly, gentle dog that had tremendous power, endurance and speed. Walden purchased a mastiff-type dog named Kim that was a stray from Danvers, Massachusetts. He later bred Kim to Ningo, a direct descendent of Admiral Peary's famous Greenland Husky lead dog Polaris. Three tawny colored pups were whelped on Jan. 17, 1917, and named Rikki, Tikki and Tavi after Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. Rikki produce those traits which Walden desired and was later renamed Chinook in honor of a wonderful lead dog Walden had left behind in Alaska. Tikki was later renamed Hootchinoo."
Chinook grew to be a massive 95- to 105-pound animal. During the early 1920s Chinook was bred to German and Belgian shepherd working types and perhaps other husky-type dogs. The offspring were then bred back to Chinook to found the breed known today as the Chinook.
Skoglund wrote "With Chinook's offspring, Walden was finally getting the quality of dogs that he was accustomed to working with. In 1920, his new line of what he called "Husky half-breds" made their debut at the Gorham, New Hampshire, Winter Carnival. Walden began to seriously promote dog sledding for draft, recreation and sport. Racing in New England started a year later when Walden began promoting freighting by dogsled to the woodsmen as a faster, more economical way to move supplies to their logging camps. Walden convinced W. R. Brown's paper company of Berlin, New Hampshire to sponsor the first Eastern International Dog Derby in 1922 in part to encourage more people to breed quality sled dogs in the region. Four teams competed in this 123-mile race, Walden, with Chinook in lead, won easily."
The race generated international publicity and was on the front page of The New York Times, making Chinook the most famous dog in the world at that time.
Skoglund wrote "In 1923, a distemper outbreak in Chinook Kennel took its toll, and Walden lost his entire 1922 winning team, except for Chinook himself. Walden took two years off from racing to concentrate on breeding another competitive team, but never stopped supporting the sport. In 1924, the New England Sled Dog Club held its organizational meeting in Arthur Walden's home, and elected Walden its first president. The club is still actively promoting sled dog racing today. In 1925, Walden returned to racing with a young but promising team of Chinook's sons, and proclaiming his Chinook-shepherd crosses as his ideal for strength and stamina. The popularity of Walden's "Chinook dogs" was growing; and, boosted by his January 1926 win at the Poland Spring, Maine, race, interest was such that Walden was beginning to sell a few matched teams of his dogs to other racers as well. In March of 1926, Walden and his team set out on an adventure that he had been considering for years, but which most people considered impossible: the first ascent of Mount Washington by dog team. While turned back by a blizzard on the first attempt, Walden and his team, with old Chinook in lead again, and accompanied by several newspaper reporters and photographers, successfully made the 8 miles to the summit in eight hours' time.
"Among the racing community Walden's dogs' popularity was short lived. After gaining recognition for their part in the 1925 Nome Serum Run, Leonhard Seppala and 40 of his Siberian Huskies left Alaska and embarked on a national tour. Seppala's tour landed in New England in late 1926 for the winter's race season. In January 1927, while at the Poland Spring, Maine, race, Seppala's Siberians proved themselves much faster than anything New England had to offer and they gained instant popularity. Seppala established a breeding kennel in Maine to supply his Siberian Huskies to the racers in New England."
But that wasn't the end of the line for Walden, who turned his attention to a new venture, Admiral Byrd's Antarctic expedition, which will be detailed in the next installment.
The third and final installment of the history of the Chinooks will detail how the breed nearly became extinct and the extraordinary efforts that went into saving the breed.
Bob Cottrell and Tug. (Courtesy photo)